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Pio Pio: A Preview of Peru

After searching for a late-night option for our post-theater dinner, we decided that we couldn’t resist a sneak preview of Peruvian food.   Enter Pio Pio, a trendy Peruvian eatery in the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood.  (What a difference a few blocks makes!  We walked through Times Square, which was packed with people.  About a 5-10 minute walk to the west brought us to Hell’s Kitchen with empty streets.)

Pio Pio, New York

I was in love when we first sat down and I tried the green dipping sauce (yes, before any of the food came out).  The sauce was addicting and perfect on every dish.  I single-handedly emptied our bowl of the sauce before the main course came out.  Luckily the waiter brought more over, which was demolished before the end of the meal.  I asked him what this special green sauce was, and all I got was that it’s a mayo-based sauce with jalapeños.  It wasn’t particularly spicy, but it was creamy and delicious!

I was thrilled to try a few dishes that I had already heard about (some are written about here):

  • papa rellena: deep fried mashed potato stuffed with meat sauce, served with salsa criolla.  The ground beef was juicy and tender, and tasted similar to Tex-Mex seasoning I’ve tasted in the past.  The dish was delicious, and it’s something that might be a safer option for someone who is nervous about trying new foods.  None of the flavors were too different than foods we are accostomed to in the US (at least in the west!).

Papa Rellena, Pio Pio, New York

  • causa de cangrejo: cold mashed potato cake filled with avocado and crab meat (there was also an option for chicken).  It’s like a Peruvian California (sushi) roll – with potato wrapped around inside of rice.  Oh, and the green sauce instead of soy sauce for dipping. 

Causa de Cangrejo, Pio Pio, New York

  • cebiche mixto: fresh corvina, shrimp octopus and calamari marinated in lime juice and mixed with red onions, cilantro, and rocato hot pepper, served with sweet potato and choclo corn.  For me, this wasn’t as good as I expected it to be – the cilantro definitely overpowered the dish and I was hoping for larger chunks of fish (perhaps I was wanting tiradito).  However, I was very excited to try the choclo corn, which was toasted and similar to large corn nuts.

Ceviche, Pio Pio, New York

  • lomo saltado: tender beef saute with tomatoes and onions in a soy sauce, served with rice and french fries.  To my surprise, the french fries came mixed in with the meat and veggies, while the rice was served off to the side.  I was surprised by the Asian flavors in the dish.  I have read that there is a lot of Asian influence in Peruvian cuisine, especially Chinese, so it will be interesting to see if this hold true when we try the dish in Peru!

Lomo Saltado, Pio Pio, New York

Pisco Sour, Pio Pio, New York

I couldn’t resist a taste (or two) of the pisco sour – a cocktail made from pisco (a grape brandy), citrus, sugar, egg whites, and Angostura bitters. I haven’t ever had anything quite like it, but I keep wanting to compare it to a margarita (probably because of the citrus flavors).  It was strong, but drinkable, and definitely more acidic than sweet.  I plan to order my fair share while in Peru, just to make sure I taste the different variations of the popular drink.  

So, the dinner was a success – the food was delicious and now we can’t wait for Peru.  But was it authentic?  I guess we’re about to find out – tonight we are off to Peru for 9 nights!  We are packed up (for the most part) and we just have to get through one more day of work before driving down to LAX to catch our red-eye flight.  For now, we will have to daydream about Peruvian cuisine, but in just over 24 hours we will be there to experience it first-hand!

Napa Valley, New York?

One of our favorite activities during our trip to New York was visiting the High Line and the Cheslea Market.  Both were overcrowded, but very enjoyable, especially after a satisfying brunch.  The Chelsea Market reminded me a bit of what an expanded Ferry Building (in San Francisco) might look like – the same sort of feel and idea, but a lot more people and more shops and restaurants.

Chelsea Market, New York

To avoid the hordes of people and satisfy our wine addiction, we stopped into a wine shop, Chelsea Wine Vault, to explore.  Once there, we learned about a weekend “wine school class” they offer: each weekend features four wine from a specific region (it changes each weekend), and the class is taught by a sommelier.  It just so happens that our wines were all from Napa Valley – somewhere all four of us had been.  Since none of us had ever done anything quite like this, and because a little wine in the afternoon sounded delightful, we paid the $20/person and waited for the class to start. 

I’m so glad we took the class.  Not only did we try fantastic wines (my favorite was the 2010 Pine Ridge “Forefront” Cabernet Sauvignon – I left with a bottle and plan to visit the winery next time we’re in Napa), but we learned a lot about what to look for when tasting wines and evaluating wines.  We even had an official “Wine Evaluation Form” in our packet, which helps explain what “90+ points” means for a wine.  One fun fact we learned is that when wines are evaluated, they are only compared to wines of the same varietal, from the same region, and within the same price range.  

Wine Evaluation Form

Our sommelier was David Hunter, who personally tastes and buys all of the wine sold at the Chelsea Wine Vault.  He was funny and full of information – the hour-long class flew by and we were wishing it was longer.  We went through each section of the evaluation form, and I’d love to pass along some of the information we learned (a brief overview). 

1. Appearance (15 points) – color and clarity: hold your wine glass at a 45° angle against a white piece of paper to judge the color and clarity.  Is the color consistent all the way through?  Is it cloudy, chunky, hazy, or clear?

2. Nose (20 points) – cleanliness, complexity and bouquet: is the aroma appealing?  Or does it “hurt” you (think of smelling vodka)?  Does it smell like cheap perfume, is it too fruity, or does it have no smell? The complexity – how many aromas can you identify?  Are there multiple layers?  And finally, the bouquet is how the aromas come together – the overall smell.

3. Palate Impression (50 points) – body, texture, flavor, balance, and finish & aftertaste – how heavy does the wine feel on your tongue?  Is the texture smooth, does it “hurt” you (again, think about taking a shot of vodka), is it acidic (does it make your mouth water)?  Is each element balanced without one taking over (for example, not too sweet or too acidic)?  How long does the aftertaste stay in your mouth? If it’s under 30 seconds, it’s simple, if it’s between 30 seconds and one minute it’s medium, and if it’s over a minute, it’s complex.

4. Overall Assessment (15 points) – overall quality, value for your money, food compatibility, aging potential, and general appeal of the wine – is the wine good for the money?  What is the aging potential (he let us know that this would be a hard one for us to judge)?

Wine Tasting, Chelsea Market

And finally, David left us with the most important piece of information: in order to store wine properly, the bottles should be left on their side at 55° F (this we have been following since we started using a wine cooler) and kept in a humid area.  The humidity part is where we failed, but luckily it’s easy enough to fix: just place a damp sponge in the cooler and change it out every month.  While we are likely okay without the added humidity for most of our wines, this tip may save the bottles of Brunello di Montalcino that we brought back from Italy and plan to store for over 10-15 years.  Thank you, David!  The class was enjoyable and informative, and a great way to escape the afternoon heat!

High Priority New York City Tourism Sights & Experiences

On our trip to New York City, we purposefully wanted to plan a “non-touristy” itinerary.  We specifically chose a location away from Times Square, and searched for unique and local eateries for our meals.  However, we ultimately realized it would be impossible to completely avoid visiting some of New York’s top tourist attractions.  Below are some of the select experiences we chose to visit during our trip:

September 11 Memorial

9/11 Memorial

The September 11 Memorial was a clear must-see for us as members of Generation Y, with childhoods undoubtedly shaped by the tragic events of that day.  The newly-opened memorial is a fitting tribute to the heroes and lives lost that day.  At the time of our visit, construction was still progressing on a permanent museum and the dramatic Freedom Tower adjacent to the memorial.  The waterfalls and pools in the footprint of the 2 former towers are magnificent in both scale and beauty.  The sound of the moving water is soothing amidst the clammer of a bustling city.

We utilized the advanced reservation system offered on the 9/11 Memorial website, which allows you to select an entry time and skip an entry line for $2 per pass.  If you have a printer, you can report directly to the memorial site.  Unfortunately, we made our reservation after leaving on our trip and needed to pick-up our reservation pass at the “Preview Site”, which is quite a detour and required waiting in a queue that was longer than the non-reservation line at the site that day.  Make sure an look for the brochure guide after entering the site, which provides good background information on the memorial (we missed it at first in anticipation of checking-out the pools).

 The Met 

Metropolitan Museum of ArtWe wanted to visit at least one museum on our NYC trip, and after reviewing our options, the Met (short for Metropolitan Museum of Art) seemed like the obvious choice.  The size, variety, and significance of the Met’s collections astounded us.  Having visited the Louvre, the Prado, and other famous European art museums, we decided to focus our tour on American art.  The museum’s American Wing features gorgeous landscapes (our favorite was one of the Andes), prime examples of American impressionism, and even stained glass pieces by Louis Tiffany.  In addition, they have amazing artifacts from Greece, Asia, and an impressive European art collection of their own.  We finished our visit with a stop at the rooftop bar, which offers excellent panoramic views of Central Park.

The Met offers “pay as you wish” admission, with a suggested donation of $25.  Although expensive, the comprehensive exhibits at the Met may warrant the high price tag.  Our ticket agent was very forward with allowing us to pay an amount we deemed appropriate.  Since we weren’t spending the whole day at the Met, we decided $12 each would be sufficient.  We definitely plan on returning on our next visit.  During our half-day visit, we didn’t cover more than 5% of what the museum had to offer.

 Empire State Building Observation Deck

Empire State Building Observation Deck


The Empire State Building wasn’t on our original itinerary.  The high cost ($27/person to the 86th floor) and long lines deterred us.  However, after a broadway show, an excellent peruvian dinner, and many glasses of wine, it somehow seemed like a good idea for us to walk 2 miles across Manhattan to catch the last elevator up the Empire State Building at 1:30am!  I’m glad we did!  Remarkably, the observation deck at the Empire State Building is open until 2am every night, with the last elevator leaving around 1:30am.  Not surprisingly, we found absolutely no lines and were virtually alone on the observation deck.  I had previously viewed NYC from the Top of the Rock observation deck, but the vantage point is really no comparison to what is offered at the top of the Empire State Building.  For $44/person, visitors are offered a view from the 102nd floor, but I would doubt that the extra 16 floors is worth the expense.